Continuing Contemporary Records’ 70th anniversary celebration, Craft Recordings is proud to announce the release of the new box set, Ornette Coleman – Genesis of Genius: The Contemporary Albums (2-LP, 2-CD and digital formats out March 25). Available for pre-order today HERE, the sets feature two seminal releases, 1958’s Something Else!!!! The Music of Ornette Coleman and 1959’s Tomorrow Is the Question! The New Music of Ornette Coleman. These albums transformed an unknown jazz visionary from the hinterlands into the talk of the New York scene.
Both albums were originally recorded by legendary engineer Roy DuNann, the man responsible for the famously pristine sound quality of Contemporary albums, and have been newly mastered for this release by Bernie Grundman, who himself got his start at Contemporary, mentored by DuNann. The 180-gram vinyl set, which will be pressed at RTI, has been cut from the original analog tapes to lacquer, with the original tapes also used for new hi-res transfers and mastering by Grundman for the 2-CD and digital editions. The deluxe box sets include a 32-page booklet with archival photos and extensive new liner notes by GRAMMY® Award-winning music historian Ashley Kahn. The LP jackets also replicate the original tip-on versions.
SACD versions of both albums, Something Else!!!! and Tomorrow Is the Question! will also be made available exclusively via CraftRecordings.com on the same date, March 25, and can be pre-ordered HERE.
Largely avoided by his colleagues on the L.A. jazz scene in the late 1950s, Coleman (March 9, 1930 – June 11, 2015) found an open door at Contemporary Records, where the label’s founder Lester Koenig was intrigued by his melodic sensibility and unorthodox approach to phrasing. After his Contemporary albums, Coleman quickly went on to New York City and turned the jazz scene on its head, but it was Koenig who provided the first glimpse of the saxophonist’s new approach to rhythm and harmony.
“These two recordings are the accessible gateway to Ornette Coleman’s music,” says Nick Phillips, the producer of Genesis of Genius. “He’s expanding on the bebop vocabulary and at this point he’s using traditional forms for most compositions, 12-bar blues and AABA song form, but doing something totally different. With Ornette and Don Cherry’s trumpet in the front line, the way they play and phrase and shift rhythms together, it sounds very loose but very tight.
Featuring Coleman’s working band with Don Cherry on trumpet, pianist Walter Norris, bassist Don Payne and drummer Billy Higgins, the album Something Else!!!! sounds less radical today than strikingly individual and steeped in the blues. With nine Coleman originals, the session introduced several tunes that became standards, including “The Blessing” and “When Will the Blues Leave?” Featuring Cherry, Shelly Manne, and either Percy Heath or Red Mitchell on bass, the emphatic, pianoless follow up Tomorrow Is the Question! made it clear that Coleman’s concepts were both insistently innovative and tethered to bedrock African American idioms. Consisting entirely of Coleman originals, the album introduced several more tunes that became an essential part of the jazz canon, including “Tears Inside,” “Rejoicing” and “Turnaround.”
More than a seminal improviser and composer who exponentially expanded jazz’s rhythmic and harmonic frontiers, Coleman embodied the playfully heroic duality-erasing ideal at the center of African American musical innovation. Radical and rootsy, avant-garde and populist, philosophical and visceral, genius and trickster, Coleman was born and raised in Ft. Worth, and the wailing Texas blues was woven into his sound. By the time he settled in Los Angeles in the mid-1950s he’d spent years on the road playing blues and R&B, imbuing a gutbucket sensibility that he carried with into every musical setting.
L.A. beboppers often treated him with disdain, perceiving his unorthodox note choice as lack of chops, but he slowly found a brilliant cadre of musicians who embraced his musical vision, including pianist Paul Bley, drummers Billy Higgins and Eddie Blackwell, bassist Charlie Haden and Don Cherry. The Contemporary albums paved the way for Coleman’s fall 1959 triumph in New York City, with Tomorrow Is the Question! hitting stores the same month that his quartet started an extended run at the Five Spot, arguably the most consequential and controversial gig in jazz history.
Alternately championed and denounced by his musical peers and critics, Coleman found a new home at Atlantic Records, where he continued expanding his gorgeous, searing, utterly human approach to music. But it was Lester Koenig who first recognized Coleman’s genius when he walked into his Melrose office at a time when the saxophonist wasn’t even welcome on most bandstands.
“The Contemporary discs were the foundation of Ornette’s career and the bellwether of a new age, arriving at the close of one decade, and the onset of a brave, new one,” writes Ashley Kahn in the Genesis of Genius liner notes. “Embraced or derided, the music challenged long-held ideas of what jazz—what music—should sound like.”
Genesis of Genius continues Craft Recordings celebration of Contemporary Records 70th anniversary, a campaign that launched in December with six digital On Contemporary compilations focusing on individual jazz giants who recorded extensively for the label: Art Pepper, Hampton Hawes, Barney Kessel, André Previn and Shelly Manne plus The Saxophonists – Various Artists, offers a tantalizing glimpse at the depth of the Contemporary catalog with an array of era-defining horn players. 2022 will see lots more to come as the label celebration continues.